xxxHolic Vol. #5 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, September 11, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Though the pipe fox is absent this time around, we get plenty of fun and mildly creepy stories once again.

What They Say
People are capable of wishing for anything they think that they want. It could be happiness... or unhappiness.

The parade of those blinded by desire trudges ever onward, and Watanuki leads the procession of the petitioning without fail. The world is getting smaller, faces from other realms more common every day. Lessons come hard and fast, with Yuko lounging blithely among the chaos. The litany of her demands is the same as it ever was, but how to play the game when the rules are set by one so arbitrary? Even so, there is always a price to pay...

Contains episodes 17-20.

The Review!
Audio:
xxxholic gets a pretty good treatment for its audio portion of the release but it really doesn’t seem to get much from the bump. The bilingual release includes the original Japanese stereo mix which is encoded at 192kbps as well as an English stereo mix which is done at the same rate. Both of these mixes are pretty good as the show is dialogue heavy with only a bit of music here and there to add some extra atmosphere. The inclusion of an English 5.1 mix at 448kbps is surprising since it really doesn’t seem to gain much from it. Generally areas such as the opening sequences come across as a bit bigger and more vibrant but even this great opening song feels the same as the stereo mix. Dialogue doesn’t gain any greater clarity or placement either. All in all, the mixes are good and we had no problems with them during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. xxxholic is a series with a good mix of real world designs that meets the supernatural. The visual design of the show is one that has a strong sense of depth to the backgrounds while the characters feel a bit out of place because of the designs. The transfer for this captures it pretty well and for the first three episodes it’s really solid for the most part. The small problematic areas are inherent in the source there as elements like Mokona shows some gradient problems and a bit of noise. This varies from episode to episode in how noticeable it is and how distracting it actually is.

Packaging:
The fifth installment continues with the same design style and has one of my favorite images yet as it pairs Watanuki and Yuko together in some finery as they stand in front of a white curtain. It has the elegance that some of the others have while also providing a very different dash of color in comparison to those as well. Like the last volume, this is a very rich looking cover, the kind that you want to have framed on a wall. The back cover takes the general design and reworks it nicely with a brief summary of the premise and a pair of small strips that contains shots from the episodes. The episode numbers and titles are clearly listed below it as well as the extras that are on the disc. The remainder of the cover is given over the technical grid – which is really small again – and the standard production credits. The reverse side of the clear keepcase has a full length anime image of Yuko’s core household with Watanuki as they have a Christmas party, complete with a snowman inside. It’s very cute and endearing, especially as Maru and Moro are in their very best child-like mode.

Menu:
Taking its cues from the front cover design, xxxholic utilizes many of the same elements and layout ideas here. The simple black background has the same kind of framing throughout it while the main part of the cover artwork is used as the main visual draw. The navigation strip is kept to the right where it has basic submenu access and the play all selection. Add in a nice bit of music to it and overall it’s a fairly standard and serviceable menu that fits into the theme well with a bit of simple style. Access times are nice and fast and the layout easy to navigate. The disc did not read our players’ language presets unfortunately and defaulted to English 2.0 and sign/song subtitles.

Extras:
The extras for xxxholic aren’t much of a surprise but the couple we get are certainly welcome. In addition to the clean opening and closing sequences, we get a brief image gallery video for these episodes.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As the second half of the series continues along at its pleasant pace, this volume has four more self contained stories that work more of the magic of the world that Watanuki is being exposed to. While the reasons for the exposure continue to be a great big unknown, there are a few hints as to what some of it may be overall which helps to frame the larger picture. All in all however, if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve seen so far, you’ll enjoy these episodes a great deal.

And the reason why most people enjoy the show is because of the characters themselves and how they interact. The various incidents that come up are often interesting enough on their own, but they tend to not be the kind of things that really capture the imagination on a bigger scale. They’re small little stories that touch lightly on the supernatural for the most part, which leaves it to what the characters themselves are all about. The opening story is a good example where Watanuki ends up helping a young woman who always puts herself into situations that cause her injury or something similar as she tries to avoid getting into pressured situations. The supernatural aspect is very minimal here as the focus is on the why of what she does as it goes into pop psychology mode. Watanuki’s attempts to grasp this and watching the young woman try to change her view on things is what makes it work as they come across in an engaging way.

The serious material does manage to fairly well dominate this volume. The ‘Self Mutilation’ episode certainly has that bleak atmosphere to it as does the last episode, ‘Atonement.’ That story revolves around a woman who comes to the shop with a photograph that is pushing her to the edge. The image within it is something that she fears and cannot stand so she has come to Yuko for a solution for it. Of course, Yuko offers to retain it for her and keep it safe, but warns that she has to deal with it eventually. And that’s one of the themes of the series, that you can’t put some things off forever. You have to deal with it in the here and now or it will haunt you for an age. ‘Atonement’ actually takes that a step further as it shows the truth of the woman’s issues in the photo and the truth is something that will dominate her life, crushing her along the way with the help that Yuko provides.

Of course, it can’t be all serious all the time. The last volume had a really enjoyable pipe fox episode that had me laughing and enjoying the lighter side of the cast. This one delves into a winter related story as Yuko gathers a lot of the characters to the snow covered park and offers them a small chest that will give them one wish. The catch is that they have to win at a snowball fight. Or rather, a snowman fight as they all have to build their own snowmen that will then attack each other. Some are highly elaborate while others are basic and simple. Poor Watanuki makes out badly by having a small rabbit that can’t seem to do anything. Mokona makes out great however by building a massive “white” Mokona that stomps all over the place. It’s all good silly fun as everyone gets into it while Yuko plays “organizer” for it and manipulates it all to her own selfish whims.

Admittedly, one of the things that continues to be a solid draw for me with this series is the character and costume designs. While Watanuki and Doumeki tend to wear the same thing as do Maru and Moro, the bulk of the characters often have very different designs from episode to episode. Yuko of course stands out the most with her interesting and often elaborate outfits, but it’s the characters that appear for the single episodes that I like the best. They’re not cookie cutter schoolgirls or something coming to seek help, but women with lives and jobs who have a sense of fashion about them. The wispy designs of the characters may alienate some, but with the fashion sense and the unusual nature of the character designs, it captures and intrigues me with each episode as I wonder what they’ll do next.

In Summary:
The way this series was going to be played out made itself known awhile ago so there aren’t any surprises here. The four standalone episodes cover some interesting ground as we get exposed to the Monster Procession and a very interesting tree, a woman who tries to hurt herself just a little and a woman with a dark secret in her past. But we also get a giant Mokona snowman and a whole lot of sake and food. Though xxxholic isn’t going to be a series that goes big with what it’s doing, it’s completely and utterly engaging with its small moments. It’s a quiet series, when Watanuki isn’t going crazy, and that’s a huge chunk of its appeal. With all the other shows that are far louder and outgoing, this is a very enjoyable show that provides something different.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Image Gallery

Review Equipment

Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: TV-PG
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: xxxHolic